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Module 6: Sharing

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6.4 Plagiarism

Pla·giar·ism is presenting the words or ideas of someone else as your own without proper acknowledgment of the source.

If you don't credit the author, you are committing a type of theft called plagiarism.

When you work on a research paper you will probably find supporting material for your paper from works by others. It's okay to use the ideas of other people, but you do need to correctly credit them.

When you quote people -- or even when you summarize or paraphrase information found in books, articles, or Web pages -- you must acknowledge the original author. It is plagiarism when you

  1. Buy or use a term paper written by someone else.
  2. Cut and paste passages from the Web, a book, or an article and insert them into your paper without citing them. Warning! It is now easy to search and find passages that have been copied from the Web.
  3. Use the words or ideas of another person without citing them.
  4. Paraphrase that person's words without citing them

Cite, Reference or Document your sources:

  1. Whenever you use factual information or data you found in a source, so your reader knows who gathered the information and where to find its original form.
  2. Whenever you quote verbatim two or more words in a row, or even a single word or label that's distinctive, so the reader can verify the accuracy and context of your quotation, and will credit the source for crafting the exact formulation. Words you take verbatim from another person need to be put in quotation marks, even if you take only two or three words; it's not enough simply to cite. If you go on to use the quoted word or phrase repeatedly in your paper, however, you don't need to cite it each subsequent time.
  3. Whenever you summarize, paraphrase, or otherwise use ideas, opinions, interpretations, or conclusions written by another person, so your readers know that you are summarizing thoughts formulated by someone else, whose authority your citation invokes, and whose formulations readers can consult and check against your summary.
  4. Whenever you make use of a source's distinctive structure, organizing strategy, or method, such as the way an argument is divided into distinct parts or sections or kinds, or a distinction is made between two aspects of a problem; or a particular procedure for studying some phenomenon (in a text, in the laboratory, in the field) that was developed by a certain person or group.
  5. Whenever you mention in passing some aspect of another person's work, unless that work is very widely known, so readers know where they can follow up on the reference.

When Not to Cite, Reference or Document your sources

  1. When the source and page-location of the relevant passage are obvious from a citation earlier in your own paragraph. If you refer to the same page in your source for many sentences in a row, you don't need to cite the source again until your refer to a different page in it or start a new paragraph of your paper.
  2. When dealing with "common knowledge," knowledge that is familiar or easily available in many different sources (including encyclopedias, dictionaries, basic textbooks) and isn't arguable or based on a particular interpretation; (i.e. the date of the Stock Market Crash, the distance to Saturn, the structure of the American Congress, the date or birth of the discoverer of DNA. This is commonly available knowledge. Obviously, what counts as "common knowledge" varies from situation to situation; when in doubt ask - or cite anyway, to be safe. Note that when you draw a great deal of information from a single source, you should cite that source even if the information is common knowledge, since the source (and its particular way of organizing the information) has made a significant contribution to your paper.
  3. When you use phrases that have become part of everyday speech: you don't need to remind your reader where "all the world's a stage" or "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" first appeared, or even to put such phrases in quotation marks.
  4. When you draw on ideas or phrases that arose in conversation with a friend, classmate, instructor, or teaching assistant - including conversation by e-mail or other electronic media. You should acknowledge help of this kind, however, in a note. Be aware that these people may themselves be using phrases and ideas from their reading or lectures. If you write a paper that depends heavily on an idea you heard in conversation with someone, you should check with that person about the source of the idea. Also be aware that no instructor or teaching assistant will appreciate your incorporating his or her ideas from conversation verbatim into your paper, but will expect you to express the ideas in your own way and to develop them.
Based on:
Radford, Marie L., Susan B. Barnes, and Linda R. Barr. Web Research: Selecting, Evaluating, and Citing. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.
Module 6
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